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Research shows too many babies are getting tans and sunburns

NEW YORK – Some babies are being exposed to the sun's damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays in the first 6 months of life, when their skin is most vulnerable. In fact, a research team at the University of Miami found that as many as one-third of local parents actively increased their infant's sun exposure each day, believing mistakenly that it would build their babies' tolerance to the sun's rays. As a result, 12 percent of the parents reported that their babies' skin had tanned before they were 6 months old, and 3 percent said their infants had been sunburned.

"Sun exposure can be extremely dangerous for babies due to their thin skin and relative lack of melanin – the skin pigment that provides some sun protection," says Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD, senior vice president of The Skin Cancer Foundation. "All of the sun damage we receive as children adds up and greatly increases skin cancer risk later in life. That's why it's so important that parents make sun protection a priority early in life."

The Skin Cancer Foundation wants parents and caregivers to know that skin cancer is highly preventable, and offers the following tips to help keep babies and toddlers sun-safe this summer and all year long:

Seek shade. Avoid direct sun exposure during peak sun hours, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. On walks, keep to the shady side of the street and use the sun shield on strollers.

Cover up. Keep babies covered up with a brimmed hat and lightweight clothing that fully covers the arms and legs. For added protection, look for special clothing marked with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 30 or more, which means the clothing will only allow 1/30th of the sun's UV rays to reach the skin.

Be careful in the car. While glass screens out most UVB rays, the chief cause of sunburn, UVA rays can penetrate windows. Like UVB rays, UVA rays damage DNA and can lead to skin cancer. By law, front windshields are treated to filter out most UVA, but side and rear windows generally aren't. Consider buying a UV shield, which can be hung over any window that allows sunlight to reach the child's car seat. Another option is to install professional protective window film.

Start sunscreen at 6 months. Since infants' skin is so sensitive, it's best to keep newborns out of the sun rather than use sunscreen. Beginning at 6 months of age, it's time to introduce daily sunscreen use. Choose a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen, SPF 15 or higher. Look at active ingredients; zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are good choices, because these physical filters don't rely on absorption of chemicals and are less apt to cause a skin reaction. Parents may want to test sunscreen on the inside of their baby's wrist. If the child has a little irritation, try another sunscreen.

Toddlers move around a lot, so parents may need to get creative with their sunscreen application routine. Sunscreen sticks work well for the face and hands, since toddlers are less likely to rub the product into their eyes. Sprays are another good option. Make sure to apply the sunscreen evenly and liberally all over your baby's exposed skin. For the face, parents should put the sunscreen on their own hands, then apply it to the baby's face.

Use sunscreen properly. Use sunscreen on all exposed areas not covered by clothing, such as the back of the hands, face, ears and neck. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going out and reapply it every two hours or more frequently if taking a baby into the pool or if he or she is sweating. For more information, visit The Skin Cancer Foundation's website,


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